written by Spc. Kevin Duffy

Where did we leave off?

Ah, yes. The transition from Phase IV to Phase V — which are the two training phases after you’ve graduated from Basic Combat Training (BCT) and entered Advanced Individual Training (AIT).

Let it be known, however, that the Defense Language Institute is the caveat of caveats when it comes to AIT. You’ll spend the first month-and-a-half in Phase IV and Phase V of AIT, but it’s not really your AIT station. You’ll go off to other places for more training after you’re finished learning your language and you’ll get to revisit Phase IV and V (or so I’ve heard) there.

But while you’re vigorously tearing off your black patch and readying for your Gold Phase (Phase V) patch, you should know some things — and this goes for everything in the Army, so I’m learning.

With more freedoms come more opportunities to make mistakes. This is true, but it really translates to having more opportunities to be lazy. And not the good kind of I’m-going-to-take-a-nap lazy. More like the I’m-not-making-my-bed-today lazy.

Make your bed. Make it every day. Platoon Sergeants will do random inspections of your room, and if your bed is not made, you’ll be served a counseling statement. Let me back up. You’ll be asked to sign a counseling statement after you’ve physically picked your mattress up off the floor and located where your Platoon Sergeant hid your pillow and sheets. I’m not confirming that this has actually happened to me, but I’ll just say that I’m still missing a pillowcase. God knows where it is — Odin’s Valhalla or Vonnegut’s Tralfamadore or someplace.

Also, keep your room clean. No one likes a mess. Especially not your roommate. You’ll have a roommate, by the way.

In the meantime, you’ll be finishing up your training classes and start a program called “Running Start” or “Head Start.” This is where you begin learning your language with students who have already passed their DLPT (this is the big end-of-term test to see if you’re qualified to speak your target language). I loved my Running Start teachers. They were both younger than me by about six or seven years — both energetic and high-speed. We started with the Persian-Farsi alphabet. Then learned a few words. Then made sentences. Then started grammar. It picked up quick, but I’m so glad I had the head start going in because it really helps when you enter class.

The best part about being in the Phase V program is that you finally get to hop on the bus and take it off post into Monterey. Of course, you need to be wearing your Army Service Uniform (ASUs) at all times while off post, but it’s a blast to finally have some freedom.

In my time off post, I had a great spaghetti dinner at California Pizza Kitchen at the Del Monte Center (it’s a big outdoor shopping mall), and saw the new “Divergent” film. It was the first time I had non-DFAC spaghetti and saw a film that wasn’t a military training PowerPoint since before Basic Training, and it felt great.

Phase V is nice. Running Start language learning. More freedom. Off post passes. And if you pass your PT Tests and keep your discipline counseling to a minimum, you’ll move onto Phase V+, where I am currently. You’ll move to your gaining company and begin language classes.

Then, then real fun begins.

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written by Spc. Kevin Duffy

So you’ve made it out of Basic Training and now you’re on a plane to Monterey, California to attend the DLIFLC. What will happen next? Experiences across the service branches vary, but here’s what happened to me:

First, I got my orders to study Farsi for a year. But, my Farsi class wasn’t starting for another two months. This happens in many cases, so the first question is, “Do I get to go home during that time?” I’m sorry to say, the answer is no. But don’t be sad. Once you get to the Presidio, your pining to get home may subside. When I took one look at Monterey bay and realized the weather was warm and the view was gorgeous, I determined it’s best I stay here, anyway.

When you get here — if you’re in the Army — AIT rules apply. You’ll spend two weeks in Phase IV (black phase). Here, you’ll be assigned to the Bravo Co. barracks and there’s PT every morning. It’s a little more extensive than what soldiers do in Basic Training, but that’s a good thing because that means better results. Also, you’ll be marching everywhere you go with your platoon.

And there are plenty of places you’ll go: JSIB, DBIDS, the acronyms go on. You’ll be subject to a multitude of classes and presentations on how to live (and take advantage of living) in Monterey. You can have your cellphone for one hour each night. All high-value items will be stored away and you can’t access them. Not until you “phase up.”

Also, you’ll be subject to nightly room inspections. Keep everything spotless. Keep everything buttoned. Know the MI Creed. Know the Army song. Memorize the SOP – if you don’t know what an SOP is, you’ll learn when you get here; it’s basically a rule book on how your room should look. Your two weeks will be a breeze.

Some of my fellow soldiers complained about Phase IV, but I loved it. Truth be told, when you’re away from your freedoms (cellphone, electronics, food, drinks for the 21+ crowd) you might binge if they’re suddenly handed back to you after 10 weeks of Basic Training. So, it’s a smart and easy transition into having a normal – albeit, military – life. There’s something nice about Phase IV. You’ll get weekend on-post passes. It’s not bad. It’s simple. It’s a nice way to reintegrate into somewhat normal life after the craziness of Basic Training.

And if you’re squared away, you’ll graduate to Phase V and start your language classes. But we’ll save that for next week’s post.

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written by Spc. Kevin Duffy
Rispettare Tutti
Have you seen the teal ribbons tied on trees and poles around the Presidio? It’s not a decoration. It’s a statement against sexual assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and a few weeks ago I had the enjoyable opportunity to accrue some volunteer hours toward getting promoted to E-5 someday in the far future. OK, so I only got two of about 100 hours I need, but it’s good to start somewhere, right? But I didn’t do it for the volunteer hours.

The event was aptly named the “Chalk Walk,” which encourages service members of to take a stand against sexual assault. The messages, written in chalk on the sidewalk outside the chow halls, were inspirational, joyous, sublime — and a number of other adjectives describing a generation speaking up. Some of them were appropriately in foreign languages, because, how could you not write one in your foreign language? One “Rispettare Tutti” (Italian for “Respect Everyone”) chalked in a blue stood out next to “Prevenire La Violenza Sessuale” (“prevent sexual assault”) in bold orange and pink.

They weren’t all about sexual assault, specifically — many were uplifting and encouraging. One that stuck with me was scribbled in white chalk among phrases in a rainbow of other colors: “We are not defined by our struggles, but by how we react to them.” A subtle nod to military life? Intense studies at DLI?

I loved that one.

Granted, having mobs of Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors illustrate inspiration phrases on Combs Chow Hall sidewalk may not solve the crisis, it’s a sign that the military is not turning a blind eye to the issue. In fact, when a serviceman or woman arrives at a new duty station, they’re briefed at length on SHARP (for the Army) and SAPR (for the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard) — programs that the military has developed for combating sexual assault.

According to Fiscal Year 2012 Department of Defense SAPRO statistics from the Pentagon, reports of sexual assault rose sharply since 2011. The report states about 3,553 sexual assault incidents were reported — that’s predicted to be only about 14 percent of the incidents that actually occurred, according to the report. The Pentagon estimated about 26,000 incidents of sexual assault occurred in 2011 and about 19,000 in 2010(1). So, you do the math.

According to a Nov. 2013 report in the New York Times, the higher statistics, however, may not be a bad thing. A DoD official who spoke to the New York Times speculated that the higher amount of reported cases meant more victims were showing a willingness to come forward to report the harassment and assault(2). Now, whether that’s true or just PR fodder, I don’t know, but it makes sense.

Here’s my two cents: If we’re serving in the military today, then it’s undoubtedly our job to take a stand for our generation. We don’t want to be remembered for letting this one go. We should be remembered for making the difference.

For more information on the Presidio of Monterey and DLIFLC Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program please visit:


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written by Spc. Kevin Duffy
The mirror
Have you ever looked in a mirror and felt like you were gazing into the future? You probably have not. But it happened to me once.

Nowadays, when I look in a mirror and I see myself wearing the Army uniform, I feel like I’m staring into an alternate universe version of myself. The truth is, if you asked me a year ago if I was considering joining the Army, I’d probably tell you “not in a million years.”

I think I’ve written two or three essays already about why I joined the military — one of which went a little viral, but there are many reasons why I’m here — why we’re all here. It’s nearly impossible to fit them all in one story. So, here’s a little story that I wanted to include in my past “Why I joined the Army” essays but didn’t.

It involves a mirror.

Let’s back track to 2004. I was a sophomore in high school and a classmate of mine was pulled out of our Health class to take a picture for our local newspaper with our principal and an Army recruiter. He was going to ship out to Basic Training right after he graduated high school, then go study French at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.

“That would be so cool to do,” I thought as I watched him proudly grab his camo backpack and leave the classroom. In the same breath, however, I told myself, “You could never survive Basic Training, so don’t even think about it.”

What I never dreamed in that class in 2004 was that I would end up with two jobs that correlated with that moment in that class: I’d be a reporter for the newspaper in which this guy’s photo was being taken, and then I’d leave said media company to join the Army and follow in my classmate’s footsteps.

I don’t even remember my classmate’s name. Wish I did. But I do remember brushing off a recruiter in 2007 while attempting to eat lunch at my community college. He kindly approached me and handed me his card and asked if I’d ever considered a career in the Army.

No, I hadn’t. Then he walked away and I went off to a university and majored in journalism and had a relatively short-lived but successful career as a news reporter.

Then, I called the recruiting office back after about six years.

You see, all that time I regretted not calling the recruiter back and not joining the Army and not serving my country. And what I regretted most was letting myself get to be 25 years old and allow that regret to eat away at my soul. Granted, I’ve done plenty of other fun things in the meantime, but I had those bricks on my shoulders.

Meanwhile, in my spare time, while I wasn’t chasing news stories, I was doing a little acting on the side (for fun) at a local theater. By May of 2013 I had been in touch with the recruiter three or four times already and delayed setting up an in-person appointment to get the Army ball rolling. I was obviously unsure of this decision and needed an “ah-ha!” moment or a sign or something that said, “DO IT!”

So, I was in this little play about WWII called “Biloxi Blues,” and about a week before opening night we started rehearsing with our costumes. Mine was a tan 1940s Class B Army Service Uniform. The stage manager, I recall, handed it to me folded up in a bag and sent me in a dressing room to try it on to see if alterations needed to be made.

Nonchalantly, I strolled downstairs into the dressing rooms and put the costume on. It fit nicely, but I needed to see how it looked. When I got out of my chair, turned around and looked in the mirror, it was like everything in my peripheral vision got hazy and all I could see was that uniform. It was like I was staring into the future. I got goose bumps up and down my arm and the whole moment caught me off-guard. I distinctly remember saying to myself “This is it. You’re destined to wear this uniform. You will quit your great job and join the Army.”

I couldn’t stop staring into the mirror. I knew what I was meant to do. It was like God was yelling “Is that enough of a sign for you?!”

Yes. It was. It might have only been a costume, but in that moment it was a holy garment and that mirror was an ordained prophet telling me that my life was about to change. The rest is history. Recruiters. The ASVAB. The DLAB. MEPs in New Jersey. Basic Training at Fort Jackson, S.C. And now, the DLI.

I’ve never shared this story before — probably because it’s awfully personal. But as I’m watching the sunrise over the foggy mountains of Monterey, trying to run through Farsi vocabulary words in my head, I’m reminded of the boy in that classroom thinking he couldn’t survive Basic Training.

He did.

I’m reminded of that news reporter who regretted not taking the opportunity to join the Army to serve his country — thinking now that he’s too old.

He wasn’t too old. His regret is gone.

As for what’s to come in the year ahead — well, you’ve found our blog. And it seems the Presidio of Monterey is never short a few good stories to tell.

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